Program on Church, State & Society 2020 fellows share summer experiences

Author: Jonathan Hannah


Three Notre Dame Law students gained valuable exposure this summer in the area of religious-institutions practice. Sponsored by the Law School’s Program on Church, State & Society, each summer fellow assisted a religiously affiliated organization.

Tom Hellenbrand worked as a legal intern for the Office of the General Counsel at The Catholic University of America.

“This summer I worked closely with the general counsel on a broad array of legal issues and helped the university prepare to operate amid the pandemic. In addition, I tracked the several religious freedom cases decided by the Supreme Court this summer and researched the implications for the university,” said Hellenbrand. “I am grateful to Notre Dame Law School’s Program on Church, State, & Society for the opportunity to apply my legal knowledge and training in service of the University and the Church.”

Samantha Contreras completed her fellowship with Catholic Charities Legal Assistance, of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

“I was able to perform legal work in various areas of the law, including but not limited to, family law, civil rights law, housing law, and immigration. All that I learned this summer was practical and laid the building blocks for me as I move forward in my legal career,” said Contreras. “My favorite aspects of this summer were listening in on consultations, allowing me to see the compassion each lawyer in the department embodied while working with their clients, and drafting petitions. I am proud to have been a small part of the Catholic Church's impact within the legal sector of our world. The opportunity to serve others in this capacity was a great privilege.”

Gabrielle Mercurio interned with the Napa Legal Institute, an organization that provides legal education to faith-based organizations.

“The Napa Legal Institute exposed me to the everyday legal issues that affect nonprofit organizations and presented me the opportunity to extensively develop my legal research and writing skills. I wrote and published updates on various topics, such as the legal considerations of reopening Catholic schools in the midst of COVID-19. Thanks to the Napa Legal Institute, I participated in real legal work that I felt was also fulfilling and meaningful,” said Mercurio.

Richard Garnett, the Paul J. Schierl/Fort Howard Corporation Professor of Law and director of the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School, has now assisted Notre Dame Law students with fellowships for six consecutive summers.

“Thanks to generous support from Dean Marcus Cole and benefactors, our Church, State & Society Fellows were able to enhance their education and experience the interesting and crucially important area of religious-institutions legal practice,” said Garnett.

The fellowship program is one of the many ways the Program on Church, State & Society seeks to educate young lawyers about the relationship between law and religion. The fellowships allow students to experience a variety of career options that combine law and religion and involve legal services to religious institutions of all types.